Numbers 21:4-9 Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10 John 3:14-21
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Children of Israel really do act like children in our Old Testament reading today. How many times have we heard children say “There’s nothing to eat” when there is a fridge full of good stuff that mum and dad have provided. It even goes as far as sitting at the table with a delicious plate of broccoli before them and saying “I can’t eat that stuff !”. The Israelites had been traipsing through the desert for a while after they had escaped from the clutches of the Pharaoh of Egypt. In the desert there truly is not much to eat, barely a plant or an insect certainly not enough to feed a fleeing nation. You might say they did have something to complain about except that God had provided them with food and water so they could survive the journey to the Promised Land. God wasn’t going to engineer their freedom from slavery only to let them die in the desert of starvation and dehydration.
God had provided manna, a miraculous mysterious food that looked like coriander seeds and tasted like cookies infused with honey. This was no broccoli ! (Exodus 16:31). But still they complained. Now I must confess that the same food day after day for forty years could get boring, but to deny its free gift and its existence is an insult to the Giver. I was taught to ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’. In other words, don’t demean a gift because when you do you demean the giver and that is not a wise or courteous thing to do when God is the Giver.
This little story is really the story of humanity from the beginning of time (well from at least the Sixth Day) right up to today. We have a free gift of life and all that sustains life, yet we have not been thankful enough and careful enough of the gift. We were told that because we had a desire to Sin the free gift would be limited and we would have to survive by the sweat of our brow (Genesis 3:19) and we have, but along the way we have done damage to Creation, in ignorance at first, but it’s not radical today to say we have in part influenced Climate Change by our carelessness, which is a bit like the child ‘accidentally on purpose’ knocking the broccoli on the floor, which the dog licks up quicker than you can say ‘Jack Robinson’.
When we act against God’s gift of Nature we too are infested with serpents that kill us. Those serpents in this case are polluted water, polluted air, polluted soil, depleted wildlife much of it disappearing and that means forever. The lives we lead are unsustainable because it seems humanity’s main goal is to consume. And like any Ponzi scheme it cannot go on forever. God is asking us to eat the manna He provides but in the manner following the life He planned for us, which is one of harmony with Nature – harmony with His Creation.
But then there is the matter of our attitudes: God didn’t take away the manna, their sustenance, from the Israelites but He sure didn’t like their attitude. The evils they brought upon themselves they couldn’t contain so God gave them an alternative, they had to believe in the power of God operating through a bronze serpent. Today that is a little too close to idolatry for us except if we look at that serpent in a different way. The alternative we have to the serpent is Jesus Christ, who it is ok to idolize.
You remember in the Garden the sneaky Serpent enticed Adam and Eve to Sin, that is, to disobey God, well because of that we have always identified the Serpent with Evil and therefore Sin. Throughout our history we have continued to sin, until we were practically irredeemable. We were and are in a situation where we cannot pull ourselves out of the water and are in perpetual danger of drowning, because our swimming technique and our life-jackets of belief still are not capable of keeping our heads above water. So, you know the story well: the Son of God, Jesus came to be among us, to live as we do, except without Sin. He took Sin, all our sins, upon His own shoulders and bore on the Cross the punishment that we should have suffered.
The story of the Israelites and their faith in the Bronze Serpent is the metaphor of the Faith that we should have in Jesus Christ. When we look upon Christ on the Cross we see a man, bearing the burden of all the Sin ever committed, being killed. Christ was crucified and died and was resurrected but the power of Sin died never to be resurrected, and is therefore powerless over us. Through Christ we know how to live a holy life and by so doing Sin will never have a hold on us again, but being human we do slip up and sin, but we confess, repent and are redeemed. How ? That’s easy, we heard it again today “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”.
When we look at the suffering Jesus, especially during Lent, we start to understand the terror, disgrace, the sheer pain that Sin causes and we would be Evil ourselves if we thought it acceptable to heap more Sin onto Jesus’ burden.
Lent and Good Friday must draw us toward a more perfect life, a sinless life, filled with charity and love for others because we have received so much love ourselves from God in Creation and in our unearned Redemption, by which God bestows on us eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.